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Rohit Brijnath
Saturday, Jul 5, 2014

Sports

Only a teen but boy does he have heart

The Straits Times | Rohit Brijnath | Saturday, Jul 5, 2014

Nick Kyrgios of Australia acknowledges the Australian fans.

Everywhere on this planet you find champion factories. Academies, clubs, camps. They say, 'Give us your boy, your girl, we'll make them into something'. They measure you for body fat and power. They feed you gels and vitamins. They teach you technique and tactics.

But this, no. This you can polish but you can't teach. Or measure in a lab. Or buy. Or inject.

Heart. From which we think flows attitude.

So it's nice that his father is from Greece. Mother from Malaysia. Passport from Australia. Height just right at 193cm. Serve just sweet. But look up the ATP Tour handbook and you'll find a hundred clones of him.

Still, Nick Kyrgios is different. He has our attention because he likes it and not everyone does. Likes being on Centre Court, even if it's just his first Wimbledon. Likes crowds, likes theatre (his sister's an actress), likes his chances. Likes to grin, likes to play a loud game, likes competition, likes to say when asked if he can beat Rafael Nadal: "Yeah." And does.

Hell, it's hard not to like him.

He's just this sweet side of brash, just sitting on the confident side of conceit, just cool enough to play a shot through his legs and wave his arms theatrically and then say, "I didn't even notice the crowd that much".

Kyrgios loses the second set, which is when Nadal starts to warm up on grass, but doesn't fold. He plays two tie-breakers, which suit the big server on grass but are also mental tests which Nadal passes in his sleep. The Spaniard has played 277 tie-breakers, the Australian 11. Still Kyrgios wins both. It's this flamboyant nerve which has John McEnroe shouting: "I think we have found the next guy in the men's game."

Okay, deep breath everyone. Calm down. Nadal these days is a Paris-tired, knee-hurting dude on Wimbledon grass and while this is a great win for Kyrgios, the last guy who beat Nadal here in 2013, Steve Darcis, is now No. 380.

The Fab Four are in parts a Fraying Four, on some days, on some surfaces. And people, in an indecent hurry, are looking for inheritors, looking to Milos Raonic (23 years old), to Grigor Dimitrov (23), and Kyrgios has been added to the list. Except he's 19, a fearless yet unpolished kid on a rugged tour of rounded players, who swallow up teenagers like a light snack and don't even burp.

We don't know if Kyrgios has a Plan B, if he can win if his serve hiccups, if his body can last over endless duels, if he can stay in rallies over slower surfaces, if he swallows defeat well, if on quiet days on lonely courts when his Prime Minister isn't tweeting about him, he can still push.

And so Nadal, like a sage who sees The Next Great Thing every few months, just warned: "If he is able to keep improving, he will be (something). If not, will be more difficult." Maybe he's saying you can't win without heart, but you can't win with only heart.

But, right now, this is young (and modern) love. A bit hyped. A bit overdone. But it's still love which occurs when a new athlete liberates his talent, announces himself on a grand stage and asks that you journey with him and you're so smitten you say yes.

Except if he lost to Raonic overnight the focus may shift on this sporting planet of short attention spans. But not in Australia, for Australia waits.

In a garden in Melbourne Park, history is wrought in bronze. In a noble line sit the busts of Rod Laver, Roy Emerson, Lew Hoad, Ken Rosewall, John Newcombe... men who swigged beer, warmed each other up before finals and from 1956 to 1971 won 48 of the 64 Grand Slam singles titles.

It's a beautiful history and a beautiful weight. For Australia hasn't won a men's Grand Slam title for 12 years and it would settle for one title. And just one man. One day soon. And to be that man is going to at least require heart.


This article was first published on JUNE 3, 2014.
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